Tuesday, April 12, 2011

YOUR HIGHNESS

Review: Your Highness
1.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund


Having grown up with a steady diet of swords-and-sorcerers fantasy, and having laughed my arse off in “Pineapple Express,” you'd think I'd be a cheerleader for “Your Highness,” a stoner send-up of Arthurian-esque adventures from “Express” director David Gordon Green and co-star Danny McBride. Cheering, however, would require enthusiasm, and “Your Highness” elicits all the ardor of an inebriated eunuch. But before we get to the supporting characters (there is indeed an emasculated servant, played by Toby Jones), let us first bemoan this unfunny comedy's grueling lack of creativity. Like the recent “Paul,” it's a geek-targeted funhouse of wink-wink nods and envelope-shoving bad taste, which boasts little about its makers except that they exhausted their Blockbuster memberships and are handy with an Urban Dictionary. There's homage, there's provocation and there's laziness. McBride, who co-produced “Your Highness,” co-wrote it with “Eastbound & Down” comrade Ben Best, and stars in the lead role, thinks he can rest an entire feature on said allusions and a barrage of profanity, but the witless brew grows thin shortly after the opening credits.

And even if it didn't, Green, a gifted director who for some reason has deigned to adopt McBride as his muse (he's also helmed episodes of “Eastbound”), cripples the film with a slug's pace, allowing scenes to drag incessantly while your attention shifts to, say, wondering who decided how much padding should go into the movie theater seats. Since it's at least partially a fat-buffoon comedy, much of the first act of “Your Highness” involves a lot of whining on the part of McBride's character, Thaddeous, a plump and slacking prince who's jealous of his dashing brother, Fabious (James Franco), pride of the nation and heir apparent to the throne. Like a textbook bully, Thaddeous nurses his insecurities by crudely picking on others, if not toking up a storm and chasing after herds of sheep (a scene that is, in fact, a highlight). After much hubbub too tedious to mention, Fabious's new bride, the Rapunzel-like Bella Donna (an ultra-busty Zooey Deschanel), is babe-napped by the sleazy sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux), who means to impregnate her and, somehow, breed a dragon. If Thaddeous doesn't help his bro retrieve the lass, he'll be booted from the kingdom (“S**t,” the medieval Tommy Boy says on cue).


A few of the rampant obscenities indicate the better movie “Your Highness” should have been (there's no denying the pleasure of hearing Leezar, the anti-Gandalf, brag about his talents with the words, “Magic, motherf***er”), but without backup, they're just more scrap on the puerile pile. For their own Ye Olde skewerings, Mel Brooks and Monty Python – whom Green, Best and McBride shouldn't even be credited with attempting to emulate – had a lot more than d**k jokes in their quivers. And even the ultimate phallic gag – a minotaur's severed penis worn as a victory necklace – can't net the kind of extreme laughs McBride and company are shooting for. It reeks of a sort of sick-spirited desperation, like watching a potty-mouthed comic bomb on stage.

With such mighty deficits in the ways of humor, story and momentum, an impossible challenge is placed on the shoulders of actors like Franco and Natalie Portman, who plays a Xena-like archeress out to avenge her slaughtered brothers and carry on their tradition of conquering baddies like Leezar (“It is my legacy to stop anyone who wants to f**k to make dragons,” she tells Thaddeous). It's a losing battle for the awards-friendly thesps, even Franco, who we know is no stranger to productions that seem more than a little...laced. Helpless against the material, he coasts along on fumes, while Portman, forgetting how to use her “V for Vendetta” accent, can't muster the same charm that changed the fate of “No Strings Attached.” She brings physicality to the role, as far as we can tell (in addition to scenes from “Return of the Jedi,” her first appearance, set in an arena, calls to mind those pesky body-double rumors), but not even her flawless physique can provide sufficient distraction.

What's left is a mechanical bird lifted from “Clash of the Titans,” a burnt-out gay Yoda with a catfish face and a jellyfish brain, a climax that's indebted to “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and Ron Howard's “Willow,” and a final scene that doesn't even try to sugarcoat its outright aping of “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” In every instance, you're simply reminded of movies you'd rather be watching, a number of which aren't even all that good. “Your Highness” is a dragon baby, a penis around the neck – unpleasant, uncalled for and better left unseen.

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